Slow Down

Hello. I’m back from my summer break and must say I feel rested and refreshed. I’ve learned it’s okay to put things aside and rest for a while. This was not always typical of me. I had to always be busy or actively working on or doing something new. I was driven and consumed by success, ambition, making money, climbing the corporate ladder, and getting things right (especially this Christian life)–quick. My drive and what was compelling it, I discovered, had nothing to do with God! My drive was worldly, often fueled by insecurity and wrong motives. I’ve learned and still am learning the importance of slowing down, smelling the flowers, and gaining the right perspective. We’re all familiar with this traffic sign. It alerts drivers to exercise caution in a particular area because pedestrians are walking nearby. Drivers should slow down.

Slowing our pace, pulling away from demands, streamlining expectations, and drawing away from people sometimes must be beneficial for us. Didn’t Jesus do it? Mark 8:35 shows us He did. It says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Even our Creator, God, after He completed His creative work, rested. Genesis 2-3 tells us, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Surely, if Jesus stopped healing, teaching, and preaching to regroup, and God, the Father, rested after work, shouldn’t we do the same?

For twelve years, I’ve been living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Before MS, I was naturally energetic and fast. My brain thought fast. I walked fast. I finished tests and spelled words fast. I typed, prepared documents, and proofread fast! I cleaned the house fast! And still, even now, I respond fast to a crisis. This was me. Fast could have been my nickname. It’s how people may identify me. No doubt, the MS has contributed to my slower pace now, (although my son is constantly alerting me still to, “slow down, Mom”). There was something more, however–besides MS–that triggered in me a need to slow life down. First, the more I experienced God in my life, I realized, unlike our fast-paced American culture and world, God doesn’t always immediately move when I need or want Him to. He doesn’t always quickly respond to my requests. God moves, responds, and acts in His time. This is sometimes difficult for us to grasp, especially when it involves something we believe He could or should have prevented if He would have. However, God’s kingdom is a mystery to us; it does not function or operate as earthly kingdoms. He reveals pieces about it to us little by little, because its ways are foreign to human ways. No one can say they have completely figured God out.

Second, this idea about, “setting our minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2) is not something we immediately comprehend. Ours is a fast-paced, fast answering, fast problem-solving world. Society tells us to “weather the storm” and “keep it moving.” Even as we watch on television the world calamities that happen, we hear news network reporters asking, “How quick was the response? How soon will repairs start? How fast did law enforcement arrive? When will the electricity be restored?” Since information now travels so fast via the internet, satellite, and cell phones, one is thinking, “Wow! Didn’t the catastrophe just happen?” But, this is our world–fast. It was my thinking too.

In my upcoming book, I talk about how as a child I visualized God as a superhero, like Superman, flying through the skies, saving the world from evil. I’ve since grown up and realized, however, God may not always act fast on my behalf. As a member of His family, there are times when daily, weekly, or year after year, my prayers to God continued. I thought they were honorable prayers too, prayers that deserved special attention because they concerned areas of struggle, weakness, or a sin I wanted to overcome. I mean, “God hates sin,” right? He’ll be here fast to help with this one. To my surprise, God didn’t immediately show up, let alone even address the situation I put before Him. He didn’t immediately come and show me a way out–sometimes until years later. God didn’t always immediately strengthen me, show me what to say, or heal my broken heart. I recall times crying out earnestly to Him, in anguish, seeking His help on a matter, his touch to relieve a pain that I felt warranted His immediate response; God did respond—but in His time. Contrary to how fast our society says we should move to keep up, I recall, in between my prayers to God and His response to them, I did: hurt, feel pain, cried, sweat, struggled, wondered, and thought. I did have to wait.

We don’t realize how earthly-minded we still are as Christians.  Instead of it being God’s kingdom driving us, we’re being driven and propelled forward maybe by our culture and societal norms and values, past hurts, settling a score, competing with someone, words spoken that left a scar, attempts to correct a past failure, and other things only you know. It’s wise to check in with ourselves to see what’s really driving us; it may not always be God.

When we’re so busy, moving fast, making things happen, and getting things done, at some point, we may finally look up and see, we missed the entire process and important small details. We neglected to recognize the still small voice inside us saying, “Stop, he’s hurting; she’s crying, sit a minute; look at Little Joey’s picture he drew for you; your husband had a rough day, rub his shoulders; look at that beautiful skyline; pick up that pretty Lily; go visit your sister today; tell them about Jesus, they’re ready; go, it’s parent/kids day at school; give her $20, she’s hungry; go visit your cousin in the hospital; hug him, he’s sad; sit down, don’t talk, just listen.” These seemingly insignificant whispers are wherein our blessing lies; it’s God quietly, gently speaking, and when we notice, we “do” what’s on His heart. Let’s slow down so we won’t miss these gentle nudgings anymore. For, it’s in doing these where our true success is measured—for God’s kingdom, that is.

Be blessed until next time!

Bearing Our Cross

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During your life’s journey, have you been able to identify a cross Our Father, God, has intended you bear? I understand you are upset, depressed, and distressed about a situation? Under your breath or aloud, you’re still cursing, screaming, and walking around in a huff over a predicament you’re in. But have you ever stopped to consider, this may be a cross Christ is asking you to bear for His glory?

Sometimes, cross-bearing is brief. An illness has landed you a stay in the hospital for surgery or treatment of some kind. For this brief period, you’re in tumultuous pain, stagnant, and unable to work to pay the bills; everything halts. Other times, it’s a similar scenario or personality type you don’t like but continuously encounter. “This again,” you think, “I hate these people!” Lastly, some crosses leave a life-long painful imprint on us, and we carry its scars every day.  No prayer, life activity, or changes we’ve made erases the memory. The Apostle Paul experienced this. It is not identified as a cross but as a thorn that he was given. “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). Paul had scars to live with. He tells us, they were given to keep him from becoming conceited. Hmmm! Do crosses, thorns, and pain help with this human malady?

We find in Matthew 16:21-26 dialogue specifically about cross-bearing. What is it? And, who’s it for? According to this text, those who ascribe to being a Christ-follower must take and bear a cross; it’s a part of being united with Christ and sharing in His suffering. I remember having this discussion with an old friend of mine. He completely rejected this idea. Any notion of suffering was a result of negative thinking on others’ part.  When discussing various unpleasant experiences he faced, I would offer him a cross-bearing perspective to help him try to recognize possibly a lesson God was teaching him or character development He was building in him. His response was always the same, “Look, that was Jesus; I’m not Jesus.”

In our text this month, we find Peter also rejecting such negative ideas about suffering. Jesus foretells His suffering and death to his disciples. The text states, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

Doesn’t Peter sound like us? During tough times and in challenging conversations, we tell our loved ones, “Stop being so negative. I rebuke that depressing spirit off you.” Peter was possibly trying to console the Lord, lift Him out of despair, or maybe change His perspective. In a sidebar conversation, I imagine Peter saying, “Come on, Lord, you’re the Messiah. You’re a great man doing all these wonderful things for people. And, we’ve been waiting for you all these years, you finally appear, and now you’re going to tell us this? Look, nothing like this is going to happen to you, especially while I’m here. Trust me!” Society tells us to stop being so negative and focus on the positive. We tell family and friends, “You’ll be fine; don’t worry about it!” Satan is usually the culprit for our negative feelings. Not always so, as we see here. Despite Peter’s well-meaning intentions, he was wrong. Jesus rebukes him. “But he (Jesus) turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Ha! Now, how about that? Peter’s kind words are coming straight from hell, and Jesus recognized this because He knew He had to bear a cross.

I don’t think it is happening this way today in our “name it, claim it” prophetic Christian subculture. We actually are accused of and rebuked for “speaking it into existence.” Have you received one of those “just claim it” words during your Christian journey that did not happen as it was proclaimed? Unfortunately, this ideology is running rampant now. People are disheartening individuals by telling them untruths to appease them.

Jesus’ somber, troublesome news to His followers was necessary and true. The disciples would later see it happened just as He said. Jesus uses this blunder by Peter to drive home a point for them and us. “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 

Cross-bearing involves:

  • Conforming to Christ’s image
  • Denying yourself
  • Taking (accepting) the cross while continuously following Him
  • Losing one’s life for Christ’s life
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Conforming to Christ’s image involves sharing in His suffering too. Cross-bearing will challenge our ideals, worldviews, perspectives, dreams, hopes, and desires. It will involve taking actions, making decisions, and/or expressing views, etc. that are counterintuitive to who we are. As we take up our cross and continue to follow Christ, at some point, any ill feelings, ill will, dislike, anger, resentment, and/or grumbling, complaining, and blaming should end. It’s an exchange Christ has called us to make for Himself. We can, however, choose to reject our cross in order to gain the world.

My fellow believers, from a human perspective, our cross may be difficult, as it was for Jesus Christ. We may want to say at times, “Oh no, not this,” or pray, as Paul did, for a problem to be removed. Don’t, however, discount or not recognize your cross because of erroneous satanic teaching happening in the Church today. Understand that, while bearing a cross, sometimes: it will not be fine. It will hurt. It will be painful. It will drive you to despair. It will cause you to cry. It will involve blood, sweat, and tears.  It will baffle your mind. It will make you sad. It will anger and frustrate you. It will be tiresome. It will cost you a lot of money. It will be risky and make you feel uncomfortable. It may require you to take medication or an infusion. It may mean, let it go. It may mean changing your perspective about a race or culture of people. You may have to embrace, live among, or help those you don’t like. It may be, no, it’s not that one; it’s this one over here. It may be, forgive and stay. It may be, forgive and leave. It may be, marry this one, not that one. It may be, not this career, this one. It may be, give that up. It may be growing up poor. It may be, anoint this one for ministry, not that one. You may lose the job, the contest, the award, the beauty pageant, or the business deal. You may be overlooked, rejected repeatedly, unfriended, lied on, and cheated. However, whatever you discover is your cross, don’t despise it. Pick it up and keep “looking unto Jesus, the author, and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 NKJV).

Happy New Year! 😊

Salvation Is a Big Deal

In salvation, the Bible makes it known that we became new creations in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:14-17 (NASB) says, For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore, from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” New Christians need to know how once you believe in Jesus Christ, who died and resurrected to new life for us, did so to bring us into the life of God. Immediately upon our salvation, God transitioned us out from under darkness and into the kingdom of God. Our old way of being, thinking and acting—in darkness–is no longer where our identity lies. Our life and identity is now in God. Colossians 1:13-14 confirms this by stating, “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of His Beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

There are two opposite kingdoms—a dark one (controlled by sin and evil) and the kingdom of the Son, Jesus Christ (controlled by light and love). This is where we were placed the moment we received Jesus Christ as our Savior.  I emphasize the immediacy because for a long time, many Christians have not known about this work Christ did for them in salvation. Even many of us older Christians have accepted Jesus as Savior but have been erroneously taught (or not taught at all) how placing faith in Christ gives us a new identity. We are instantaneously children of God, children of the light, and accepted in God’s beloved.  This is the reason why the scripture verse states above, “we no longer consider anyone from a fleshly perspective.” God’s kingdom is spiritual and does not operate as we do or this world. This is important to know because new Christians can boldly begin their Christian journey by immediately receiving this truth into their hearts, mind and spirits. They can “hit the ground running,” so to speak. They can confidently proclaim their acceptance by God into his supernatural kingdom. Imagine how one’s actions would immediately change if this was the new focus of one’s thinking? “I have been rescued from sin and evil and brought into God’s eternal light and love” Do not let anyone try to deduce you or kick you out of where God placed you in salvation. You are no longer darkness, but light in the Lord. Think this way; act this way. Hmmm! (Take a deep breath, exhale and smile!).  Salvation is a miracle indeed!

To learn more about this new life God has given you, I recommend reading the Bible books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which biblical scholars term the Synoptic Gospels. They are the only books in the Bible that reveals to us who Jesus is. Why do we want to do this? Well, Hebrews 1:1-4 (Study Bible) tells us why, “On many past occasions and ways, God spoke to our fathers through the prophets.  But in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature, upholding all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. So, He became as far superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is excellent beyond theirs.”  Our invisible God’s nature can be seen through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only One who accurately represents who God is. Jesus controls God’s kingdom and shows us God’s nature, what pleases God, and reveals God’s plan for humankind.  Therefore, He deserves our undivided attention this scripture is saying. Wow! These gospel narratives, written by the disciples (turned apostles) of Christ, are very important to read and study because in the kingdom of God, Jesus Christ is the One who connects us to God, is our new model, and the One we now follow, and no longer ourselves or this (dark) earthly way of doing things.  It is in these Synoptic Gospel books where Jesus’ life and public ministry is recorded and where we find out how God operates. Be encouraged and happy reading!  Continue reading “Salvation Is a Big Deal”